2 people cycling on a wooden bridge with water beneath it, heading to a trail amongst the forest.

Make your next family vacation a Northern Ontario cycling holiday

2 people cycling on a wooden bridge with water beneath it, heading to a trail amongst the forest.

When you are out exploring Ontario on your bicycle, you’ll be fully aware of your surroundings. Listen to the rubber tires bite on the pavement, inhale of the fresh aroma of the forest and take in the lay of the land as you speed down a hill or work your way up to a viewpoint.

With a province’s worth of family-friendly routes, tours, accommodations and equipment rentals that now includes e-bikes and child trailers, there’s nothing stopping you.

It’s a great way to explore a city

It’s difficult to explore a city from within a car. And walking is pleasant, but oh so slow. Coasting through town on a bike, slowing and stopping whenever you want, is the way to go. 

North Bay is home to the Kate Pace Way, a 12 kilometre, one-way route of mostly paved recreational trail that will introduce you to downtown, and then lead you south into the forest. On the way back, consider a detour to Lakeshore Drive for a host of kid-friendly restaurants like Terry’s Place. For bike sales and service in North Bay, visit Wheelhouse

Hop onto the Hub Trail for a wheeled tour of Sault Ste. Marie. It’s a 25-kilometre, multi-use, non-motorized trail system that connects points of interest including the waterfront walkway Algoma UniversitySault College, the new hospital, and Fort Creek Conservation Area. For cycle sales and service in the Soo, visit Velorution or Duke of Windsor Sports.

E-bikes make it easier than ever

There was a time when one could argue bicycling wasn’t suited to family groups, because the different generations often had different range and speed abilities. Not anymore.

The advent of electrically-assisted pedalling has levelled the road ahead. Talk to Sudbury E-Bikes and Hollywood Electric Bikes in Sault Ste. Marie about their e-bike inventory. The technology is getting better all the time—so much so that anyone can keep up with the fastest track rat in your group, just by having an on-board electric battery give a boost to their natural pedalling output. 

And while it’s true that kids under 16 can’t ride e-bikes in Ontario, that doesn’t mean batteries don’t have a role to play for younger kids. The prospect of a parent pulling a bike trailer with junior comfortably installed is a lot more appealing if they can benefit from a battery to keep pace with the others in the group.

It lets family members find their own way

When biking, you aren’t stuck in a car together, observes Mark Roberts from Toronto. He and his wife have taken their son, now aged 17, on more than a dozen cycling trips over the last eight years. The multi-day trips average about 70 kilometres a day, some guided, some self-guided. Roberts says a day spent cycling is ideal for flexible family dynamics, when sometimes parents or kids need space from each other. “There are periods where you ride along quietly, on your own, others where you group up and talk. It waxes and wanes.” 

When you give more, you get more

Roberts recounts that when his son was 11 years old, the family did a five-day, 500-kilometre cycling trip. “I don’t think his friends had done that. You finish that with an accomplishment you will remember. We prefer that over the usual tourist traps. You have to work a little harder, you get a little dirtier, but in the end we have more fun.”

Go with a guide

Seeing the best of Manitoulin Island (and there’s a lot to see on the world’s largest freshwater island) is as easy as signing up and following a guide. The Manitoulin Cycling Advocates offer five-day Alvar Cycle Tours on which your days will be spent rolling along the quiet and beautiful roads of this Northern island paradise, with nights spent in comfortable lakeside lodging with like-minded cyclists. 

Humdinger Bicycle Tours runs a number of fully supported tours through central Ontario, including Haliburton, Muskoka, Bruce County, and Collingwood.

You can do it semi-guided

Ontario By Bike arranges group rides exploring scenic regions of Ontario along quiet roads and recreation trails that are fully supported, but don’t include all-day guides.

Mark Roberts has done numerous Ontario By Bike tours with his wife and son: “Everything is planned and booked. You just show up with your bikes and bags. Your overnight luggage is put on a truck and taken to the hotel. You don’t have to carry everything while you cycle. The truck shadows the group and help is a phone call away if you have a problem. At designated rest stops, the support truck is waiting with fruit, sweets, and drinks.”

You can do it yourself

Ontario By Bike is a great trip-planning resource for do-it-yourself-ers, with links to cycling maps, routes, experiences, and certified bicycle-friendly accommodations, restaurants, cafes, attractions, visitor information centres, and bike store locations across Ontario.

Trips you might want to undertake include the Lake Huron North Channel Cycling Route. This new route, between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, is explained in this downloadable guide

Along the way you’ll roll through towns like Bruce Mines. Consider staying at Bruce Bay Cottages, for rustic accommodation with trails and a beach. Be sure to make a side trip to cycle the historic mine trail, for a view over the lake that inspired members of the Group of Seven. For cycle sales and service in Sudbury, visit Sessions Ride Company, Adventure 365 or The Outside Store.

It’s great exercise

Skiers, hikers, paddlers, cyclists… these people know something that beachgoers do not: it’s that deep-in-the-bones satisfied feeling at the end of a day of breathing hard, the feeling of having worked one’s body the way it’s supposed to be worked. When you get home after a cycling holiday, that set of stairs at work won’t seem half as high. And the benefits of having your kids working off their energy with fresh air and exercise? If you are a parent, you already know all about that.

Warren Miller used to end his ski films with the reminder to those contemplating a ski trip: “If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.” True enough, but even more to the point for parents contemplating cycling trips is the fact your kids will be one year older too. Take them on a cycling vacation before it’s too late.

Last updated: October 13, 2023

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